Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Nursing and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Dignity in the care of older people – a review of the theoretical and empirical literature

Ann Gallagher1*, Sarah Li1, Paul Wainwright1, Ian Rees Jones2 and Diana Lee3

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health and Social Care Sciences, Kingston University & St George's University of London, Kingston Hill, KT2 7LB, UK

2 Room 103, First Floor, Neuadd Ogwen, School of Social Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2DG, UK

3 Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Nursing 2008, 7:11  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-7-11

Published: 11 July 2008

Abstract

Background

Dignity has become a central concern in UK health policy in relation to older and vulnerable people. The empirical and theoretical literature relating to dignity is extensive and as likely to confound and confuse as to clarify the meaning of dignity for nurses in practice. The aim of this paper is critically to examine the literature and to address the following questions: What does dignity mean? What promotes and diminishes dignity? And how might dignity be operationalised in the care of older people?

This paper critically reviews the theoretical and empirical literature relating to dignity and clarifies the meaning and implications of dignity in relation to the care of older people. If nurses are to provide dignified care clarification is an essential first step.

Methods

This is a review article, critically examining papers reporting theoretical perspectives and empirical studies relating to dignity. The following databases were searched: Assia, BHI, CINAHL, Social Services Abstracts, IBSS, Web of Knowledge Social Sciences Citation Index and Arts & Humanities Citation Index and location of books a chapters in philosophy literature. An analytical approach was adopted to the publications reviewed, focusing on the objectives of the review.

Results and discussion

We review a range of theoretical and empirical accounts of dignity and identify key dignity promoting factors evident in the literature, including staff attitudes and behaviour; environment; culture of care; and the performance of specific care activities. Although there is scope to learn more about cultural aspects of dignity we know a good deal about dignity in care in general terms.

Conclusion

We argue that what is required is to provide sufficient support and education to help nurses understand dignity and adequate resources to operationalise dignity in their everyday practice. Using the themes identified from our review we offer proposals for the direction of future research.